Nancy's Books

Sunday, February 20, 2011

First Paragraph/Writing Contests

Ten seconds. That’s the average amount of time editors give to an unsolicited manuscript to determine if they want to keep reading. TEN SECONDS! Yikes! Of course, the time varies from editor to editor, but keep in mind the value of the first impression. In a literary sense, it's the first paragraph.

The first paragraph is the most important paragraph you’ll write, regardless of the type of story. Beginning sentences provide the ten seconds in which the editor decides to quit reading or becomes engaged in the story. Readers often do the same thing. In bookstores and libraries, readers pick up a book, open to the first page and read about ten seconds. As readers, we decide quickly if we like the writing style and if the story grabs us. If not, we move on to another book.

Make the first line of the first paragraph so enticing, the reader is hooked enough to read the second line, then the third. The introductory paragraph is the roadmap for the remainder of the story. Hint at WHAT is going to happen as you establish the setting, introduce the main character, and point of view. That’s an incredible task, but not impossible. [See: previous three blogs for writing literary hooks.]

Next week, I’ll explore writing the first paragraph.

Wherefore a.r.t. though?
This contest is a fun way to stretch your writing muscles. The contest winner will get a literary treasure chest from A Word with You Press, sent to your doorstep, to include signed copies of all their books and a lot more.

Start with a title: “The art of_______________”

You fill in the blank. Could be the art of Picasso, the art of the deal, the art of Thomas Sully, the art of making popcorn, the art of rolling a cigarette. the art of kissing, the art of getting over 500 visitors a day on our website. ANYTHING can go in the blank.

But then it gets a little tricky.

Your first three words have to start with the letters “A” , “R“, and “T“. For example “Arthur relied totally (on the advice of his mother, who….) or Anglophiles ruined Thorn’s (respect for Guinness and the English language) or Another rotten tomato (hit him squarely in the jaw as he recited the lines to Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.) You get the idea.

The story must be no more than 500 words (this does not include the title).

Somewhere you must have a word sequence that is is created from the word “Writer”, just like you did for “Art”, like “William remembered intimate things Evelyn regretted having told him, that night they uncorked the…)

Entries must be received by February 28th, midnight, California Time. Send entries to
Details at

Saroyan Writing Contest for students:
THEME: Which friend or family member has had the greatest impact on your life? Why?
Limit 2-3 pages. First place $100, second place $75, third place $50. Prizes awarded in each age group: Grades 1-2, grades, 3-4, grades 5-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12, college. Students with special needs are also encouraged to participate.
Must use entry form online.
Details at
Deadline: March 7, 2011.

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